The only thing missing from Utah gymnast Maile O’Keefe’s last performance was the crowd noise. The sophomore from Las Vegas won the all-around with a 39.525 and scored the nation’s first 10.0 of the season on balance beam in Utah’s win against Washington.
The perfect score, the first of her career, prompted a rather odd celebration due to social distancing and a near-empty Huntsman Center.
“Thanks to the hand held digital score flashers we use, I’m used to hearing that wave of sound that follows when they spin it around and just gets louder and louder,” Utah coach Tom Farden said. “There was no roar Saturday.”
Don’t feel too bad for O’Keefe, if she keeps performing the way she has started 2021, there will be plenty of chances for some raucous celebrations in the future.
O’Keefe had an extremely successful rookie season in 2020, earning first-team All-Pac-12 honors on the balance beam, winning five event titles and hitting 30-for-30.
Given that history, expectations were she would be one of the Utes’ key performers this year, but she has been better than expected.
NO. 3 UTAH AT NO. 16 ARIZONA STATE
When • Saturday, 1 p.m. MST
TV • Pac-12 Networks
In her three all-around appearances she has three scores of 39.375 or higher to rank fifth nationally, has scored 9.9 or higher in her four beam efforts to rank second and has three scores of 9.825 or higher on the floor.
“She is in a great space right now,” Farden said. “She is determined this year. Last year she was just getting her sea legs, understanding the program.”
Suffice it to say, she has it figured out and admits she came into the season with a feeling 2021 could be good for her.
“I feel more confident in my skills this year,” she said. “Last year I had some freshmen jitters, getting used to things and a new atmosphere. This year I am settled into Utah and the role I have on the team.”
O’Keefe managed to make some gains with her routines and mental outlook despite the breaks in Utah’s training due to the pandemic. That was a challenge, considering the restrictions meant her normal gym routines were replaced with YouTube workouts and runs with her three dogs.
“Our team is really self-motivated,” O’Keefe said. “There were a lot of things that we weren’t able to do for team bonding but we had our workouts and just tried to stay in as much shape as possible.”
No one can argue with her training methods, given her results. Still, O’Keefe wants more improvement, believing the Utes have some unfinished business from the shortened 2020 season.
After losing at Oklahoma, the Utes had a regrouping to make sure they were as committed and determined as they need to be to finish the season how they want, pushing for a national title.
“We knew that was an uncharacteristic showing for us,” she said. “We all got a little bit flustered in the situation but it was nice knowing if we did hit we could be right up there with them. We just had to fix a few things.”
The Utes’ next test comes Saturday at Arizona State in a 1 p.m. meet televised by the Pac-12 Networks.
She knows her high scores are going to increase expectations as the season goes along, but so far she has handled it by focusing on helping the freshmen in their rookie seasons by offering them advice and encouragement in the meets.
It’s advice offered to them, but also for herself.
“You have to be patient in your routines and breathe,” she said. “You know what to do.”